The Taste of Things (2023) (The Pot-au-Feu) (La Passion de Dodin Bouffant)

The Taste of Things, directed by Tran Anh Hung is so, so French. It’s beautiful and it’s a 19th-century love story that is also food and beauty obsessed.

On the Boil

by Alexa Dalby

The Taste of Things!–/imdb–>

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

The Taste of Things is like a Renoir painting come to life.

Director Poetry (2010)(The Scent of Green Papaya)’s camera lingers lovingly on the many components of a sunlit 19th century French country kitchen – the wall with the neatly hung-up copper pans, the earthenware bowls full of chopped vegetables and the many essential bits of equipment that we no longer know the use of. All through the film, through the open door to the kitchen garden that lets in the sun, you can hear birdsong. It’s an idyllic scene.

The Taste of Things is inspired by Marcel Rouff’s novel La Vie et la passion de Dodin-Bouffant, gourmet (The Passionate Epicure). French chef Pierre Gagnaire was its culinary adviser.

It stars Juliette Binoche and Benoît Magimel as Eugénie and Dodin. Dodin is a famously uncompromising gourmet and chef. He is passionately and romantically in love with Eugénie, his cook and a culinary artiste. Though she is able to interpret his foodie passions, she is strongly independent. Dodin owns the vast chateau where they both live – separately – and unmarried, much as he would have liked that to happen in the 20 years they have worked together.

The first 36 minutes of the film is taken up with watching Eugénie cut lettuce from the kitchen garden and prepare a superb multi-course meal for Dodin and his coterie of local male professionals and gourmets. The camera follows her every move and there is hardly any dialogue. The men then consume her work in an appropriately awed silence. Though they invite her to join them, she refuses – food is how she communicates.

Eugénie’s kitchen maid is Violette (Galatea Bellugi), who brings her young niece Pauline (Bonnie Chagneau-Ravoire) for the day. Dodin and Eugénie discover Pauline has a rare and precocious talent for understanding food and together they gently encourage her. The movements of Dodin, Eugénie and Violette around the kitchen when they prepare the meal are like a well-rehearsed and choreographed, graceful ballet – it’s intricate and it’s hard work, but nobody gets in anyone’s way.

The Taste of Things is a lovely film, fascinating, even, if you like cooking and you hope you can learn from the techniques shown so graphically. But everyone is too nice to each other. Everyone cares about everyone else. The love affair is between two mature people and they communicate well without misunderstandings, so there’s no drama in that way, though the film has its sad scenes.

And the original title? It’s significant. A prince lays on an over-elaborate, cheffy meal for Dodin. He plans to return that invitation by serving what appears to be only a simple pot au feu (boiled beef and vegetables), probably the French national dish. It will be exquisitely prepared, no doubt, and it’s also deceptively simple, clear and light. It sums up Dodin’s philosophy.

Two decades ago, Binoche and Magimel were in a long-term relationship and had a child but not a wedding.

The Taste of Things premiered at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won Best Director for Tran Anh Hung. It was chosen as the French entry for Best International Feature Film at the 96th Academy Awards.It is released on 14 February 2024 in the UK.

Join the discussion